Posts tagged ‘Paul Krugman’

Paul Krugman Has Convinced This Libertarian to Vote Republican in the Next Election

Paul Krugman in the NY Times, Via Todd Zwycki

The truth is that given the state of American politics, the way the Senate works is no longer consistent with a functioning government. Senators themselves should recognize this fact and push through changes in those rules, including eliminating or at least limiting the filibuster. This is something they could and should do, by majority vote, on the first day of the next Senate session.

Don't hold your breath. As it is, Democrats don't even seem able to score political points by highlighting their opponents' obstructionism.

It should be a simple message (and it should have been the central message in Massachusetts): a vote for a Republican, no matter what you think of him as a person, is a vote for paralysis.

OK, sign me up.

Wherein, To My Great Surprise, I actually Agree with James Hansen

James Hansen wrote an editorial supporting a revenue-neutral carbon tax, and while I don't really agree with all of his justifications or economics, I do agree with his ultimate conclusion --that such a tax would be fairer, more efficient, less growth-killing, and ultimately more effective than the Frankenstein mess of parts that makes up the current cap-and-trade bill.

To be fair, I have been on this point for a while, having advocated a carbon tax offset by a payroll tax reduction to make it revenue neutral for some time, including in my most recent film.  I don't think I have to tell my readers that I am not big on taxes nor am I of the belief that any strong action on CO2 emissions is necessary.

However, I am largely indifferent between a sales tax on fuel and an equal sized sales tax on labor (which is effectively what payroll taxes are).  There is no doubt that a reduction in payroll taxes would be a helpful step in this recession, and if folks would sleep better at night with less carbon emissions, I can tolerate trading one for another.

Jonathon Adler has more, including Paul Krugman's negative reaction to the plan  (did this guy really once win the Nobel Price in economics?)

Freaking Hilarious Take on Krugman

Steven Landsburg via Mark Perry

It's always impressive to see one person excel in two widely disparate activities: a first-rate mathematician who's also a world class mountaineer, or a titan of industry who conducts symphony orchestras on the side. But sometimes I think Paul Krugman is out to top them all, by excelling in two activities that are not just disparate but diametrically opposed: economics (for which he was awarded a well-deserved Nobel Prize) and obliviousness to the lessons of economics (for which he's been awarded a column at the New York Times).

It's a dazzling performance. Time after time, Krugman leaves me wide-eyed with wonder at how much economics he has to forget to write those columns.

More Lame Economic Analysis

Kevin Drum and the left think falling savings rates are all ... wait for it you are going to be shocked with surprise ... Reagan's fault.  OK, you are not surprised, since in left-world everything that is not Bush's fault is either Reagan's, Wal-mart's or Exxon's.

Paul Krugman looks at this chart of the personal savings rate in the United States and concludes that Reaganomics is the most likely reason that it fell off a cliff....

But I'd point to two other things that Krugman mentions: financial deregulation and stagnant median wages.  Those seem like much more likely villains to me.  Starting in the late 70s, middle class wages flattened out, which meant there was only one way for most people to support the increasing prosperity they had long been accustomed to: borrowing.  At the same time, financial deregulation unleashed an industry that marketed itself ever more aggressively on all fronts: credit cards, debit cards, payday loans, day trading, funky home mortgage loans, and more.  It was a match made in hell: a culture that suddenly glorified debt; an easy money policy from the Fed that made it available; a predatory financial industry that promoted it; and middle-class workers who dived in to the deep end without ever quite knowing why they were doing it.So, yeah, Reagan did it.  Sort of.  But he had plenty of help.

This is a great variation of the classic "I know what caused bad trend X -- everything I was against before I learned about bad trend X."  The following was my response in the comments:

  1. The chart on the left starts out at 8%. Drum picked a recession peak as his starting point, a clever trick, but it appears that when Bush 1 left office the number was still about 8%. The largest fall seems to be in the Clinton years. For which, by the way, I don't "blame" Clinton any more than Reagan, certainly not without any real evidence or understanding of the mechanism involved.
  2. Drum's "consumers are all stupid pawns of electronics retailers and credit card companies" wears thin at some point.   It's funny how everyone thinks this is true... of everyone else, but not himself.
  3. Let me posit an alternative. The 1980s and 1990s saw huge percentage increases in asset values, both equities and homes. This began just about at the time the savings rate dipped. I would posit that consumers, in their mental calculation of savings, included paper gains on these assets. These paper gains are not, to my knowledge, included in savings rate numbers (you can be sure that is true because, if they were, savings rates would have dropped in late 2008). Thus consumers saved less money from their paycheck (which is measured, so it showed a drop in savings rate) while they considered themselves still to be saving as much or more as previously, because they were counting paper profits on assets as savings.  The big decreases coincide with the 80's bull market, the 90's bull market / internet bubble, and this decades housing bubble.

My explanation in number three will look even better if we see an increase in savings rate over the coming years as consumer expectations about asset value changes are made less exuberant by the recent burst bubble.  A fascinating chart would be to plot savings rate against some measure of consumer expectations of future asset price increases.  I bet they would correlate pretty well.

Nothing To See Here, Move Along

Kevin Drum, echoing Paul Krugman, looks at rising interest rates on Treasuries and decides that there is nothing to see here, move along.   You will all be relieved to know that these rising interest rates have nothing to do with a couple of trillion dollars in new government borrowing, and the effect that this borrowing (and wild money printing) might have on

  • Inflation
  • Sovereign risk
  • Supply and demand for credit

Boy, do I feel better.

PS - And remember, if interest rates do start exceeding historical norms, Krugman will discover that it is Bush's fault.

Oh Crap, I Agree With Paul Krugman!

Paul Krugman, on ethanol:

I'm almost never censored at the Times. However, I was told that I couldn't use the lede I originally wrote for my column
following the 2007 State of the Union address, in which Bush made
ethanol the centerpiece of his energy strategy: "Before the State of
the Union address, there had been hints and hopes that President Bush
would offer a serious plan to reduce our dependence on imported oil.
Instead, however, he took refuge in alcohol."

Well, anyway - the news on ethanol just keeps getting worse. Bad for the economy, bad for consumers, bad for the planet - what's not to love?

Well, I have heard that he was a pretty good economist before he became a political hack.

On Political Calibration

If I had to choose one word that describes why I despair of politics, it is "calibration."  Recently, it has been observed that Ron Paul, for example, cannot possibly win because he sticks to a basic set of beliefs and never calibrates his message to the electorate and recent polls.  On the other end of the scale, Hillary Clinton is famous for endlessly calibrating everything she does in the hopes of maximizing the votes she receives.

Calibration is one of those dangerous words that tend to obfuscate the underlying reality.  Because, there are only two possible definitions of calibration as used in this political context:

  • Lying, i.e. telling the electorate what they want to hear with the intention of acting differently once in office
  • Total nihilism,, i.e. willingness to shift beliefs based on whatever is effective

Russell Roberts describes the situation pretty well:

But there is little difference between Republican and Democratic
Presidents in what they actually do. In what they say? Sure. Both
Reagan and Bush talk about individual responsibility and the market
blah blah blah. Bill Clinton talked more about feeling people's pain
and the downtrodden blah blah blah. Similarly, in the current
presidential campaign, there are stark rhetorical differences between
say Giuliani and Romney on the one hand and Obama and Clinton on the

But will the actual results be different? Will Hillary double the
minimum wage? Change our health care system to be more socialized?
Eliminate corporate welfare? Will Giuliani make the health care system
less socialized? Eliminate the minimum wage? Get rid of farm subsidies?
Stop spending federal money on education?

Most of it is talk and it's not just because change is hard to
achieve. It's because they really don't want change. Did Bill Clinton
get rid of income inequality? Dent it? The share of income going to the
top 1% rose throughout most of the Clinton administration. Was it his
policies? The steady rise in the share of income going to the top 1%
started rising in 1976. Was it Carter's doing?

Was Bush or Reagan a hard core free trader in practice? Nope. They
used protectionism when it was politically expedient. Just like Bill
Clinton signed welfare reform and NAFTA and then chose not to enforce
the truck provision of NAFTA because the Teamsters didn't like it.

Government gets bigger under both Republicans and Democrats. What
they spend money on is a little different, yes. But to hate George Bush
for being a free market guy is to miss what is really going on. And to
hate Hillary because she doesn't understand the power of markets and to
love, say, Mitt Romney, is to misunderstand both of them. They use
rhetoric to dupe you. Don't be duped.

This all leads to the question of into which category should we place Paul Krugman - lier or nihilist?

Paul Krugman worries that,
although trade between high-wage countries is mutually beneficial,
"trade between countries at very different levels of economic
development tends to create large classes of losers as well as winners"
- and so is suspect because it likely harms ordinary American workers
("Trouble With Trade," December 28).

A famous trade economist
argues that this concern is misplaced.  In a 1996 essay, this economist
- responding to a protectionist who fretted that western trade with
low-wage countries would harm workers in the west - wrote that this
protectionist "offers us no more than the classic 'pauper labor'
fallacy, the fallacy that Ricardo dealt with when he first stated the
idea, and which is a staple of even first-year courses in economics. In
fact, one never teaches the Ricardian model without emphasizing
precisely the way that model refutes the claim that competition from
low-wage countries is necessarily a bad thing, that it shows how trade
can be mutually beneficial regardless of differences in wage rates."

Oh - the economist who wisely warned against the pauper-labor fallacy is none other than Paul Krugman.

The Core Problem with Social Security

I am happy to see others making the point I have tried to make for years:  That the coming financial problems with Social Security are not its biggest problem.  Megan McArdle and Clive Cook say it very well:

In this post on Paul Krugman and Social Security,
Clive, as usual, targets with laser accuracy the real problem with the
Social Security system: not that it is bankrupt, but that it encourages
people to make extremely bad decisions about providing for their future.

It starts with childbearing:  social security systems seem to exert downward pressure on birthrates,
in effect undermining their own actuarial base. Social security
socializes the benefits of childbearing in providing for retirement,
but no one has yet figured out how to socialize the main cost, which is
turning your life choices over to a screaming pre-verbal dictator.
People are thus tempted to free ride on the childbearing of others, and
the more generous benefits are, the more they seem to free ride. This
is one reason that Social Security, which used to have more than 30
workers for each retiree, now has only three, headed towards two.

Social Security also encourages people to leave the workforce
earlier than they otherwise would. People are healthier than ever at
65, but while in 1950, almost half of all men over the age of 65
worked, that number is now less than 20%. This appears to be highly
correlated with the spread of defined benefit pensions such as social
security, which offer no advantage to delaying retirement. Indeed,
Social Security perversely penalizes anyone who takes early benefit but
continues to work, docking a third of their earnings.

Finally, Social Security discourages private savings. This is
terrible for two reasons. If future fiscal problems force the
government to reduce benefits, the people who didn't save enough
because they relied on those promises will be made much worse off than
they would otherwise have been.

The other problem is that Social Security is not a productive
investment. Privately saved money is mostly lent to corporations that
mostly use the money to do things that make the economy more
productive, such as R&D and capital equipment upgrades. Social
security "contributions" are lent to the government, where they are
mostly spent on things that could not be remotely described as
improving our economy's productive capacity, such as farm subsidies.

Excellent.  I ran the numbers and discussed what a bad investment return was paid by Social Security here.  I discussed Social Security as intellectual welfare here.

Taking Krugman to the Woodshed

My friend Brink Lindsey is usually pretty measured in his writing.  So it was entertaining to see him take Paul Krugman out to the woodshed:

How can someone as intelligent and informed as Krugman
concoct an interpretation of the post-World War II era that does such
violence to the facts? How can someone so familiar with the intricate
complexities of social processes convince himself that history is a
simple matter of good guys versus bad guys? Because, for whatever
reason, he has swapped disinterested analysis and scholarship for
ideological partisanship. Here,
in a revealing choice of phrase, he paraphrases Barry Goldwater's
notorious line: "Partisanship in the defense of liberty is no vice."

To be a partisan is, by definition, to see the world partially
rather than objectively: to identify wholeheartedly with the
perspectives of one particular group and, at the extreme, to discount
all rival perspectives as symptoms of intellectual or moral corruption.
And the perspective Krugman has chosen to identify with is the
philosophically incoherent, historically contingent grab bag of
intellectual, interest group, and regional perspectives known as
postwar American liberalism.

Of course, over the period that Krugman is addressing, the contents
of that grab bag have changed fairly dramatically: from
internationalist hawkishness in World War II and the early Cold War to
a profound discomfort with American power in the '70s and '80s to a
jumble of rival views today; from cynical acquiescence in Jim Crow to
heroic embrace of the civil rights movement to the excesses of identity
group politics to a more centrist line today; from sympathy for
working-class economic hardship to hostility to working-class culture
and back again. Yet with a naive zeal that leaves even Cuomo visibly
nonplussed at several points in the interview, Krugman embraces the
shifting contents of this grab bag as the one true path of virtue.

A Zero-Sum Wealth Quiz

One of the really bad ideas that drive some of the worst government actions is the notion that wealth is somehow fixed, and that by implication all wealth is acquired at someone else's expense.  I am working on my annual tax-day post on the zero sum fallacy, but in the mean time here is a brief quiz.

The quiz consists of matching a description to the owners of these two houses:

House1a House2b

One house has hot and cold running water, central air conditioning, electricity and flush toilets.  The other does not.  One owner has a a computer, a high speed connection to the Internet, a DVD player with a movie collection, and several television sets.  The other has none of these things.  One owner has a refrigerator, a vacuum cleaner, a toaster oven, an iPod, an alarm clock that plays music in the morning, a coffee maker, and a decent car.  The other has none of these.  One owner has ice cubes for his lemonade, while the other has to drink his warm in the summer time.  One owner can pick up the telephone and do business with anyone in the world, while the other had to travel by train and ship for days (or weeks) to conduct business in real time.

I think most of you have guessed by now that the homeowner with all the wonderful products of wealth, from cars to stereo systems, lives on the right (the former home of a friend of mine in the Seattle area).  The home on the left was owned by Mark Hopkins, railroad millionaire and one of the most powerful men of his age in California.  Hopkins had a mansion with zillions of rooms and servants to cook and clean for him, but he never saw a movie, never listened to music except when it was live, never crossed the country in less than a week.  And while he could afford numerous servants around the house, Hopkins (like his business associates) tended to work 6 and 7 day weeks of 70 hours or more, in part due to the total lack of business productivity tools (telephone, computer, air travel, etc.) we take for granted.  Hopkins likely never read after dark by any light other than a flame.

If Mark Hopkins or any of his family contracted cancer, TB, polio, heart disease, or even appendicitis, they would probably die.  All the rage today is to moan about people's access to health care, but Hopkins had less access to health care than the poorest resident of East St. Louis.  Hopkins died at 64, an old man in an era where the average life span was in the early forties.  He saw at least one of his children die young, as most others of his age did.  In fact, Stanford University owes its founding to the early death (at 15) of the son of Leland Stanford, Hopkin's business partner and neighbor.  The richest men of his age had more than a ten times greater chance of seeing at least one of their kids die young than the poorest person in the US does today.

Hopkin's mansion pictured above was eventually consumed in the fires of 1906, in large part because San Francisco's infrastructure and emergency services were more backwards than those of many third world nations today.

Here is a man, Mark Hopkins, who was one of the richest and most envied men of his day.  He owned a mansion that would dwarf many hotels I have stayed in.  He had servants at his beck and call.  And I would not even consider trading lives or houses with him.  What we sometimes forget is that we are all infinitely more wealthy than even the richest of the "robber barons" of the 19th century.  We have longer lives, more leisure time, and more stuff to do in that time.   Not only is the sum of wealth not static, but it is expanding so fast that we can't even measure it.  Charts like those here measure the explosion of income, but still fall short in measuring things like leisure, life expectancy, and the explosion of possibilities we are all able to comprehend and grasp.

More, coming soon...

Update:  An example of why this topic is always timely:

Paul Krugman foresees an increasing left-leaning electorate. The cause?

The main force driving this shift to the left is probably rising

income inequality. According to Pew, there has recently been a sharp

increase in the percentage of Americans who agree with the statement

that "the rich get richer while the poor get poorer."

Russel Roberts goes on to tear into this red meat.  Read it all.


More Zero Sum Economics (Sigh)

I have tried many times to combat the absurdity of zero-sum economic thinking.  Unfortunately, Democrats seem to be testing income-inequality messages as their lead horse to ride in the upcoming elections, so we are going to hear a lot more of it.  It bothers me even more when smart liberals like Kevin Drum buy into the zero sum thinking.  To his credit, he doesn't totally buy into this mess from Paul Krugman:

The concern [is] that, through mechanisms we're not entirely sure of, the very richest are siphoning off the economic growth before it flows through the middle and lower classes. The worry is about the distribution of growth, but the suspicion is that the distribution is being warped by the sheer level of inequality.

But then he goes onto say nearly the same thing:

I'm not sure this gets the mechanism quite right, though.  There are two basic ways that unequal growth can happen:

  1. The rich suck up vast amounts of income growth, and this leaves very little money for the middle class. Thus, wages for the middle class are stagnant or, at best, rising slowly.

  2. Middle class wages are kept stagnant, and this frees up vast amounts of money from economic growth. The money has to go somewhere, and it goes to the rich.

Now, obviously, it doesn't have to be one or the other. It could be both. But I suspect there's a lot more analytic power in #2 than in #1.

And finally, this stupendously ridiculous statement:

After all, the income from economic growth has to go somewhere, and if it's not going to the middle class it's going to end up going to the rich. Where else can it go?

What's bizarre about all of these statements is it treats wealth, and in this case specifically income growth, like a phenomena that is independent of individuals and their actions.  They treat income growth like it is a natural spring bubbling up from the ground, and a few piggy people have staked out places by the well and take all the water before the rest of us can get any.

Wealth and income growth comes from individual action.  Most rich people are getting more rich because they are intelligently investing and taking risks with their capital, applying the output of their mind to create new wealth.  There is no (none, zero, 0) economic correlation that says that if the rich get really rich, then there is less left over for the poor. 

Here is his solution:

Now, there's certainly no reason to reduce marginal tax rates on the hyper rich in an effort to make inequality even worse than it otherwise would be. But as unjustified as this is, tax cuts aren't the main issue. Median wages are. Focus government policy like a laser on improving the wages of the middle class, and reductions in income inequality will follow.

And how the hell does he suggest the government do that?  Seriously.  Can anyone tell me one single thing the government can do to improve middle class wages that does not involve tax policy?  Well, we can back into his solution from this paragraph where he lists things the government can do that are bad for the middle class:

Appoint members to the Federal Reserve who are obsessed with inflation and act to cool down the economy at the least sign that average hourly wages are rising. Make it harder to form unions in new industries, thus reducing the bargaining power of the working class. Support free trade agreements that put downward wage pressure on low-income workers. Support tax and deregulation policies that make middle class jobs less secure.

So presumably, his solution to increasing middle class wages is: 1) allow inflation to run at a higher rate 2) encourage unionization  3) adopt protectionist measures for uncompetitive industries and stifle free trade  4) increase regulation on businesses and reverse deregulation in industries (presumably like airlines and telecoms).

I'm no Julian Simon, but if we could structure a bet as to whether these policies would help real middle class wages, I would sure take the opposite side from Mr. Drum.

Here is my theory for what is going on, if you even accept that middle class income stagnation is real and not a symptom of our difficulty measuring the benefit of improving products and technologies.  I think much like technological advances from time to time in the past have caused restructurings in the labor market for blue collar workers, we are going through the same thing, really for the first time, with white collar middle class workers.  Technology and globalization offer all sorts of opportunities for companies, and the result is a real restructuring of how many types of white collar workers are used.  Until this restructuring is complete, wages may stagnate, since any wage pressure will just lead to companies implementing changes from their backlog of streamlining opportunities.

At some point we will work through this, and wages will rise again.  If anything, I think the government does damage by slowing this process down.  Note that nearly every one of Drum's suggestions would slow or stop this restructuring.  This is one of the ironies of progressives -- despite their name, what they don't like about capitalism is the change.   They want safety and predictability from the inherently unpredictable.  So protectionism slows global outsourcing, and also reduces the pressure for cost improvement.  Regulation tends to lock in current practices and make changes harder.  Ditto strong unions.

One of the reasons I like some of what Bill Clinton did was that in the early 90's, he faced tremendous pressure to take many of these same steps, trying to halt the economic restructuring that was occurring due to competition from Asia.  He didn't have the government step in, though, and he supported free trade, and the country thrived.  His fellow Democrats (including his wife) should learn from that.

update:  A real economist (unlike me and probably Paul Krugman) discusses inequality and unionization

update #2:  More real economists, this time the awsome guys at Cafe Hayek, pile on.

George W. Bush: Champion of the Left

I've made this point myself, but David Boaz says it great:

So here's your challenge, lefty bloggers: If you don't like the
tree-chopping, Falwell-loving, cowboy president - if you want his
presidency fatally wounded for the next three years - then start
praising him. One good Paul Krugman column taking off from that USA Today story on the surge in entitlements recipients under Bush, one Daily Kos
lead on how Clinton flopped on national health care but Bush twisted
every arm in the GOP to get a multi-trillion-dollar prescription drug
benefit for the elderly, one cover story in the Nation on how Bush has
acknowledged federal responsibility for everything from floods in New
Orleans to troubled teenagers, and maybe, just maybe, National Review
and the Powerline blog and
Fox News would come to their senses. Bush is a Rockefeller Republican
in cowboy boots, and it's time conservatives stopped looking at the
boots instead of the policies.

Hurricanes and Big Government

So, unsurprisingly, Paul Krugman and others are arguing that Katrina is a vindication for large-government liberals  (One would think we would love GWB, who has been a better large-government builder than Clinton, but that is another topic).  Anyway, I think it is worth thinking for a second about the federal government and hurricanes.  I will divide the post into two parts:  Preparedness and Response, and show that in fact, large central-government thinking is at the heart of many of the problems that are being faced.

Disaster Preparedness
I cannot come up with any justification for the US Government taking the lead role in local disaster preparation or protection.  The types of disasters are just too wide and varied:  Tidal waves in Hawaii, earthquakes in LA, mudslides in San Diego, fires in the west, tornados in the plains, hurricanes on the gulf coast, blizzards in the north, etc. etc.  And why would anyone want the feds taking over their local disaster plans anyway?  Do you really want to rely on the hope that a national organization has the same priority on your local risks that you do?  The resources, the knowledge, and the incentive to prepare for emergencies are all local, and such preparation should be done as locally as possible.

The only reason locals would even tolerate federal involvement in disaster preparedness is $$$.  Every local politician loves federal dollars.  And even a hardcore libertarian like myself is probably willing to admit that some of the preparedness investments truly are public goods.  Take levees for example.  I am willing to have them as public goods.  However, no one can convince me that levees whose sole purpose in life is to protect New Orleans are federal public goods.  Why do I need to pay for them?  Why don't New Orleans people bear the full cost of their choice to live below sea level?  My family chooses to live in a place that is relatively free of disasters (though if the Colorado River dries up you can come visit our bleached bones as we are consumed by the desert).  Why should I subsidize people's choice to live in a location that sits in mother nature's cross-hairs?

But beyond my cantankerous libertarian desire not to subsidize you, those of you who live in disaster areas should demand to take responsibility for your own preparedness.  The feds are never going to value your safety the same way you do (as evidenced in part by the 40-year ongoing fight for levee funding in New Orleans) and are never going to understand your local problems like you do.  In fact, the illusion of federal responsibility for disaster preparedness is awful.  It gives irresponsible local authorities an excuse to do nothing and a way to cover their ass.  It creates a classic moral hazard and sense of false security.

I have resisted saying this for a week or so out of respect for the plight of individuals still struggling in Louisiana and Mississippi:  If one divides the world into the ants and the grasshoppers (per the classic fable), New Orleans and Louisiana would make the consensus all-grasshopper team.  They have lived in a stew of bad and corrupt government for years, mixed with a healthy dose of Huey Long-style patronage that created expectations that "you would be taken care of".  Their state officials have for years not only been grasshoppers, but have demanded that they be supported by the ants, and seem lost and confused that the ants didn't protect them somehow from Katrina.

Disaster Response
Its probably good to have a national body that can help focus resources from around the nation onto local regions that have been devastated by some disaster.  But here is the key point.  The federal government itself is never, ever going to have the resources stockpiled somewhere to handle a disaster of this magnitude.  They can't have the doctors on staff, the firemen waiting around, the medical supplies in a big warehouse, a field full of porta-potties ready to deploy, etc. etc.  There is just too much needed, and the exact needs are too uncertain.

What they can do, though, is understand that in an emergency, Americans from all over the country are always willing to help, to volunteer their time or skills or money to aid the victims.  More than anything, the Fed's role needs to be to remove barriers from these resources gettting to the the right places as fast as possible, and to backstop these private efforts with federal resources like the military.  Take the example of refugees.  There are over a million from this hurricane.  Of those, at least 90% will be helped privately, either from their own funds or friends or family or private generosity.  Probably more like 95+%, if you include resources offered by local governments.  The feds role then is to help the remaining 5% find food and shelter.  Note, though, that the problem is not dealing with 100% of the problem, it is dealing with the 5% the leaks through bottom-up efforts, while removing barriers that might stand in the way of bottom-up efforts helping the other 95%.

Unfortunately, the feds don't think this way.  Most feds, including Krugman type large government folks, distrust private and bottom up efforts.  They are top-down technocrats, putting an emphasis on process and control rather than bottom-up initiative.  I wrote much much more about the failed technocratic response to Katrina here.  I think one can argue the reason that the refugee situation for 95% of the people worked well is that these folks quickly got out of the sphere of influence of the FEMA folks -- in other words, they got far enough away to escape FEMA control.  Can you imagine what a total disaster would be occurring if FEMA tried to control the relocation of all 1 million people?  But on the LA and MS gulf coast, FEMA is exercising total control, actually preventing private initiative from helping people, and everyone is the worse for it.  I encourage you to read more in this post about valuing control over results, but I will leave you with this one anecdote that sums up the big government technocratic top-down world Mr. Krugman longs for:

As federal officials tried to get some control over the deteriorating
situation in New Orleans, chaos was being replaced with bureaucratic rules that
inhibited private relief organizations' efforts.

"We've tried desperately to rescue 250 people trapped in a Salvation Army
facility. They've been trapped in there since the flood came in. Many are on
dialysis machines," said Maj. George Hood, national communications secretary for
the relief organization.

"Yesterday we rented big fan boats to pull them out and the National Guard
would not let us enter the city," he said. The reason: a new plan to evacuate
the embattled city grid by grid - and the Salvation Army's facility didn't fall
in the right grid that day, Hood said in a telephone interview from Jackson,

"No, it doesn't make sense," he said.

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Anyone Remember the Eighties?

One of the worst parts about living through the eighties was listening to all the angst about Japanese companies "buying America".  I never really understood the issue that people had with foreigners buying American assets (beyond pure xenophobia).  It was all especially puzzling because most of the wailing came from people who are today wailing about American outsourcing.  So its bad when American companies buy productive assets in other countries AND its bad when foreigners buy productive assets in this country?

Anyway, I missed it the first time around, but apparently Paul Krugman is upset that a Chinese company might buy Unocal.  Here are his reasons for concern:

Yet there are two reasons that Chinese investment in America seems different
from Japanese investment 15 years ago.

One difference is that, judging from early indications, the Chinese won't
squander their money as badly as the Japanese did....

The more important difference from Japan's investment is that China, unlike
Japan, really does seem to be emerging as America's strategic rival and a
competitor for scarce resources - which makes last week's other big Chinese
offer more than just a business proposition.

His first is just laugh out loud funny.  We actually have an economist claiming that the world was better in the 1980's because there was a huge market inefficiency (ie, the Japanese overpaid for unproductive assets). 

His second argument seems to be that US supplies of oil are more secure if American companies own them.  This is stupid.  If he means that it is more secure economically, then he should have his economist merit badge taken away for life.  Even he must know that oil is a fungible commodity, and as such trades world wide at a price set by supply and demand.  If more of Unocal's oil goes to China, this replaces other oil coming from somewhere else that is now available on the market.  And, if he means it is safer politically, he forgot to study the last 50 years of history.  Every major oil producer of the world - Saudi Arabia, Mexico, Venezuela, etc are pumping oil that used to belong to American oil companies, but was nationalized and taken from them.  Does Mr. Krugman's statement mean that the left and the NY Times are suddenly more ready to support the property rights of American oil companies overseas? I doubt it.  It is actually an improvement over history that a totalitarian state like China is actually buying American oil assets rather than just expropriating them.

By the way, I call Mr. Krugman's view of national economic success the "monopoly board" view of the world.  In his mind, America and China are playing monopoly, and once China gets St. James Place, America can never own all the oranges.  This is not the way the world works.  When America grew economically in the last century, it did not mean that all the other countries had less opportunity to grow.  In fact, we pulled many countries along with us.  His zero-sum view is just the macroscopic counterpart to the zero-sum based worry about rich people getting richer in this country.

Marginal Revolution and Cafe Hayek both have good analyses of Paul Krugman's neo-mercantilism.

Postscript:  Gee, I hate to play the race card, but why is it we always get a national panic when it is China or Japan buying US assets and not when it is the Dutch, the English or the Canadians (who are far larger investors in US assets and companies than the Chinese)?